Must Govt Sponsor Pilgrimages?

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Last Friday’s revelation that the Federal Government intends to spend about N14 billion  on pilgrims to Saudi Arabia came as a rude shock to most right-thinking Nigerians.  Sources at the Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, stated that out of the estimated  95,000 pilgrims that will take part in this year’s pilgrimage, the Federal Government  plans to sponsor 26,235 of them. The sources added that it will cost between N460,000 and  N540,000 to sponsor each of the 26,235 pilgrims for the 2010 Hajj.

In the face of the nation’s other crippling problems, we think this is one profligacy too  many. Education is in shambles, industrialists  are moving out of Nigeria, kidnappers are  having a field day just as the Niger Delta militants are crying foul and threatening to  go back to the creeks, over 70% of the population live below poverty level, so says the  United Nations, and here we are, after spending a colossal sum to celebrate our 50th  independence anniversary, we want to sponsor some people on a pilgrimage.

In a secular state such as ours, we believe the issue of religion is a personal thing and  as such, should be put on the back burner. The state should never use our collective  wealth to sponsor just one group of people, whether Muslims or Christians on pilgrimage.  If the Federal thinks otherwise, it might as well sponsor Shango worshippers to South  America on a pilgrimage.

In a country where basic health facilities are lacking and life expectancy has plunged to  47, where literacy level is put at between 31-59 per cent, where cholera still ravages  parts of the country and people die in their hundreds, what reasonable government would  spend billions to sponsor people on a personal journey to Jerusalem or Saudi Arabia?

If half of the N14 billion is spent on sinking boreholes across Nigeria, we all know what  it would mean to the recipient communities. If some of this billions is used to patch up  the Benin-Ore highway, we all know what impact it would make but it does not seem that  our leaders and policy makers think this way.

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If it has been the tradition of successive governments to sponsor pilgrimages, it is time  to stop the wasteful exercise; we’ve had enough of waste. At 50, Nigeria ought to look  back and see where we have been found wanting and move to correct such costly mistakes.

We must start to think of ways of solving our problems and put a stop to profligacy. If  philanthropists want to sponsor millions of people on pilgrimages, let them do so. The  state should not do it for any a reason at all. Governors should go on their pilgrimages  with their personal funds and stop using state funds to sponsor their families, cronies  and party loyalits on wasteful trips.

Taking a critical look at Nigeria, it seems things are on a downward slide. No new  factories are springing up, unemployment is still on the rise, infant mortality rate is  still as bad as 10 years ago, Nigerians now make do with supplying their own electricity  and water, and yet we call ourselves the giant of Africa. We believe Nigeria can rise  again. All we need are visionary leaders who know what to do. It is time the National  Assembly picked up the constitution and took a more critical look at areas where it  encourages waste and expunged them. The National Assembly, the most expensive in the  whole world, debates nothing but their allowances and salaries. The laws, for which they  were elected or rigged into office to enact,  are no longer a matter of debate, except  where they affect them negatively. So the waste goes on.

Most of those in office today attended school through scholarships awarded by the Federal  Government. Sadly today, funds which ought to be used to educate indigent students are  frittered away on expensive trips by government officials on pilgrimages that mean  nothing to the average Nigerian. This must stop now.